Migraine attacks may one day be something we can see coming and relieve before they start, thanks to our research. Other researchers are working to stop landfills from smelling and polluting; to make renewable energy viable; and to design materials for a mission to Mars. Enjoying the diversity and impact of engineering research is one of the most rewarding aspects of my job as an engineering dean.
Many top colleges of engineering can tell stories like this, and indeed the network of U.S. engineering schools plays a critical role in research and education that directly impacts the nation’s economy. And while each college has a unique identity, ours comes from the hyphen in our name. That powerful punctuation symbolizes the partnership at our core: FAMU-FSU College of Engineering is integrally part of both Florida A&M and Florida State universities. Each of these great institutions brings something special to the table and the combination in not only unique, but powerful.
Faculty and staff from both universities enjoy shared expectations and joint rights at each institution, and they educate students in a unified academic environment on the engineering campus. Not only is the school the only partnered college of engineering in the country, but it also brings together two great institutions with overlapping, but distinct, missions.
Today the college has 2,500 students and 120 faculty—relatively small for the Top 25 public universities—yet we are the No. 4 producer of African American Ph.D.s in engineering (based on 2018 data). The college is the most highly ranked graduate school of engineering amongst HBCUs, made possible because of its connections with Florida State’s large research enterprise.
Georgia Tech, the University of Florida and other leading producers of African American engineering Ph.D.s are predominantly white institutions (PWIs), which operate using a “feeder” type model. For example, the Atlanta University Center Consortium of Clark Atlanta, Morehouse and Spelman colleges, all undergraduate-intensive HBCUs, is very successful in placing students into graduate school at Georgia Tech. In such “feeder” models, the HBCU faculty deliver the undergraduate education, and the PWI faculty carry out the doctoral-level education.
While very effective in feeding the pipeline of graduates, rather than addressing the institutional disparities between HBCUs and PWIs, feeder models sustain them. There are several other HBCU engineering schools that grant doctorates, but none is in the Top 20 producers of AA engineering students, and no other has yet been able to achieve the Research I category and appear in the top 120 graduate engineering schools.
FAMU-FSU Engineering is the only highly research-intensive engineering model in the nation where the same faculty at an HBCU do both undergraduate and graduate education at the level of a Research I university. As such it is a truly integrated model that demonstrates the transformation that HBCUs must accomplish for them to realize their full potential, and advances the graduate education of underrepresented minorities.
Expanding on this could be critical to building the cadre of underrepresented minority faculty who will in turn provide role models to increase participation in the engineering profession, which our nation so badly needs.
Another positive consequence of our partnership is the diversity of the college’s undergraduate population, which more closely mirrors the U.S. population than any other ranked engineering school in the country. This diversity means, whether minority or majority, all the undergraduates learn to work together in diverse teams. One of the biggest barriers to increasing representation in the workplace is inclusion—the need to ensure equity for all employees regardless of race, ethnic identity or gender. Young people who have worked together while learning engineering can be models for the workforce of the future.
Historically, HBCUs are often located in close proximity to PWIs. Our college points the way for stronger partnerships between these institutions that will address issues called out in the recent National Academy report entitled “Minority Serving Institutions—America’s Underutilized Resource for Strengthening the STEM Workforce” and help strengthen these critically important institutions. Not blending or amalgamating—it is institutional bridging through partnerships that will accelerate the needed transformation.
I believe we have a unique and important model demonstrating how to capitalize on the strength of America’s Minority Serving Institutions and change the equation for the engineering education of underrepresented minorities.